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Mormons & The Benedict Option

Should LDS members embrace it? To some extent, they already do
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Should Mormons take the Benedict Option? Hal Boyd of the Deseret News asks this question in a column published today. Excerpt:

Additionally, as Dreher admits, in order to preserve the basic rights that permit Christianity to flourish, political engagement is vital.

However, in an age in which America has begun to retrain its domestic focus to provide more help to regions of the nation that have been passed over in the modern economy, it’s perhaps fitting that Dreher is introducing a brand of Christianity that would shift its gaze from the nation’s capital back to local parishes and pews — satisfying the needs of parishioners before politicians.

By rebuilding congregations and the Christian core, Dreher seems to suggest that national influence will come as a natural consequence. After all, when the kingdom of God comes first, those other kingdoms usually seem to follow, even if they come ten minutes late, doubled over and sucking wind.

So should Latter-day Saints choose the ‘Benedict Option’? Perhaps start by reading the book.

I appreciate Boyd’s generous treatment of The Benedict Option in his column. In fact, I write in it that Mormons can teach the rest of us a lot about how to live the Benedict Option. Excerpts from TBO:

Why be close? Because as I said earlier, the church can’t just be the place you go on Sundays—it must become the center of your life. That is, you may visit your house of worship only once a week, but what happens there in worship, and the community and the culture it creates, must be the things around which you order the rest of the week. The Benedictines structure all their life—their work, their rest, their reading, their meals—around prayer. Christians in the world are not expected to live at the same level of focus and intensity as cloistered monks, but we should strive to be like them in erasing as much as possible the false distinction between church and life.

Recall that Brother Martin of Norcia believes that after experiencing life in Christian community, one ordinarily can’t be fully Christian, or fully human, without it. The Latter-Day Saints (LDS, or Mormons) may not be orthodox Christians, but they are exceptionally good at doing the kind of community building that the monk suggests is a vital part of being a Christian.

Terryl L. Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and an expert on the LDS faith, says this is because Mormon theology and ecclesiology forge unusually strong social bonds within local churches (or “wards”). Mormons don’t believe in ward hopping. They are assigned their ward based on where they live and have no right of appeal. This compels them to work together to build a unified community of believers, not to wander in search of one. Givens calls this “Zion-building, not Zion-hunting”—a reference to the Mormon belief that adherents must lay the foundations for Zion, the community that Jesus Christ will establish at His return.

More:

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul urged the believers there to “have the same care for one another. “If one member suffers, all suffer together,” the apostle wrote. “If one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it.”

The LDS Church lives out that principle in a unique way. The Mormon practice of “home teaching” directs two designated Mormon holders of the church’s priestly office to visit every individual or family in a ward at least once a month, to hear their concerns and offer counsel. A parallel program called Relief Society involves women ministering to women as “visiting teachers.” These have become a major source of establishing and strengthening local community bonds.

“In theory, if not always in practice, every adult man and woman is responsible for spiritually and emotionally sustaining three, four, or more other families, or women, in the visiting teaching program,” says the LDS’s Terryl Givens. He adds that Mormons frequently have social gatherings to celebrate and renew ties to community. “Mormonism takes the symbolism of the former and the randomness of the latter and transforms them into a deliberate ordering of relations that builds a warp and woof of sociality throughout the ward,” he says.

Non-Mormons can learn from the deliberate dedication that wards—at both leadership and lay levels—have to caring for each other spiritually. The church community is not merely the people one worships with on Sunday but the people one lives with, serves, and nurtures as if they were family members. What’s more, the church is the center of a Mormon’s social life.

“The consequence is that wherever Mormons travel, they find immediate kinship and remarkable intimacy with other practicing Mormons,” Givens says. “That is why Mormons seldom feel alone, even in a hostile— increasingly hostile—world.”

I would love to hear more from LDS readers of this blog about these things. Let me say up front that if any readers want to start an argument over whether or not Mormons are “real” Christians, I’m not going to publish your comment. It’s not relevant to this discussion, which is about the kinds of practices that build a thick and healthy religious community.

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